GOP governors lay out policy direction
Seeks steer clear of agenda defined by Washington
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. | In the absence of a clear agenda from a Congress widely labeled as dysfunctional, Republican governors used their annual meeting to identify broad policies they believe the nation needs to embrace, ranging from education, public employee-pension and tax reform to regulatory relief, transportation and energy infrastructure.
At their conference this week, the 30 Republican governors went all out to make the case that they, not Washington, are still the laboratories of democracy and innovation. Washington intra- and interparty bickering until now has largely drowned out their message and hidden their accomplishments, they argued.
“We have a great story to tell — it’s about creating jobs,” said South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a year into his job, said the contrast between his experience in Congress and working with his fellow “Republican governors has been very eye-opening.” He too said Washington is dysfunctional — “not only broke, but broken.”
“I’m more convinced than ever that the cure for what ails this nation will come form our nation’s state capitals than it will from the nation’s capital,” Mr. Pence said.
During the Reagan era in American politics, and for a while afterward, Republican governors got more national attention than now, in large part because they won media coverage and public attention as the innovators on such issues as welfare reform, workfare, school vouchers, charter schools and enterprise zones.
The big names back then included Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Michigan Gov. John Engler, among others.
So now it’s up to this generation of GOP governors to break through the din and make their case.
“The governors are leading their states on finding solutions to these issues and to the problems families and businesses face, compared to Washington, D.C. which appears to be dysfunctional, disorganized, with a lot of partisan bickering going on in Congress,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin told The Washington Times.
Reminded that her fellow Republicans control the U.S. House, she said, “but the whole Washington brand is dysfunctional. Nothing is going to be done in Washington right now.”
Ms. Fallin is one of the most conservative Republican governors and is also the first Republican woman to head the National Governors Association, made up of the governors of every state, regardless of party affiliation. She boasts a mile-long list of managerial posts, from heading up a national hotel chain to serving as Oklahoma’s lieutenant governor, then as a member of the U.S. House and now as governor.
She said her colleagues in statehouses around the country are addressing “education reform, infrastructure, keeping taxes low, making government smaller, more efficient. The Republican governors are focusing on jobs, creating stronger business climate for the creation of jobs and the retention of jobs.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who succeeded Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday as Republican Governors Association chairman, rattled off an even more extensive list of reforms and innovations that Republican governors can take credit for and that work — unlike much of what the White House and Congress do, he said.
“Throughout the last day and a half of this conference, what I've heard from governors all across the country, whether it's John Kasich in Ohio or Scott Walker in Wisconsin or [the governors] sitting up here with me, is we talk about the common sense solutions that we're bringing to the people of our state and the things that are getting done on their behalf,” he said at a morning press briefing that also featured Mr. Pence — a 12-year veteran of the U.S. House — Mrs. Haley and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Mr. Kasich, who was chairman of the House Budget Committee during his days as a U.S. congressman, once made a run for the Republican presidential nomination and is again being talked about here as a possible 2016 candidate. His straightforward, no-nonsense approach and dry — sometimes biting — humor in dealing with people and problems remind his fellow governors of the man who could be a presidential nomination rival, Mr. Christie.
But Thursday was the New Jersey governor’s time to shine and he did — helped by a landslide re-election this year that has made him the flavor of the month for the media — and for many voters, the polls suggest.
Mr. Christie didn't disappoint on his first day on the job, arranging a surprise luncheon visit for his colleagues from former President George W. Bush.
Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson, the Drug Enforcement Administration chief under Mr. Bush, flew here as the invited guest of the organization he hopes to join.
"Real change in our nation is going to happen within the states, not Washington,” he said in an interview. “We see the constant gridlock in Washington and it is clear that things aren't getting done.”
Echoing what virtually everyone one of the assembled governors said at one point or another at this two-day conference, Mr. Hutchinson, also a former U.S. House member, said his “number one priority is job creation and growing the economy in Arkansas. I just proposed a middle class income tax reduction plan that I believe will spur economic growth.”
He said he also believes that education “is a vital part of the job creation equation and I am committed to creating a world-class education system in Arkansas."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley (second from left) speaks during a news briefing for the Republican Governors Association annual conference with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (left), Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (second from right) and Florida Gov. Rick Scott (right) on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz.